Appointment of woman to local religious council irks MK Gafni

Naftali Bennett appointed Biton to position of co-supervisor of local religious council in Ako; Gafni says "Bennett is a bum."

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The appointment of a woman for the first time to jointly head a local religious council has aroused the ire of senior haredi politician MK Moshe Gafni.
Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett appointed Leah Biton to the position of co-supervisor of the local religious council in Acre, as he is authorized to do in a situation when, due to political stalemate on the municipal level, a full council cannot be agreed upon.
Gafni responded harshly to the news and severely criticized Bennett over the appointment in comments made to the haredi Yated Neeman newspaper.
“Bennett is a bum who tries the whole time to prove that he’s not religious and is not interested in the tradition that exists in this regard,” the paper quoted the MK as saying.
“He doesn’t succeed in anything but he’s trying hard to prove he’s secular and doesn’t care about the tradition that’s been here for years. He’s not succeeding in anything he’s doing and is looking for all kinds of headlines to get all kinds of applause like from the Hiddush organization, something that proves who his friends are.”
Hiddush, a religious equality lobbying organization, highlighted the appointment on Wednesday last week and praised Bennett for the step.
In response to Gafni’s comments, Bennett posted a picture of the Yated Neeman headline on his Facebook page saying “Gafni is a brother.”
Local religious councils are responsible for administrative affairs pertaining to religious services in regional districts. According to Hiddush, of the 135 local religious councils throughout the country, approximately half consist of elected members and half consist of two appointees, following a failure to reach political agreement on the council’s make-up.
Of 130 appointees, two for each council, there was just one woman serving as a co-supervisor before Biton’s appointment.
Hiddush director-attorney and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev wrote to the attorney-general in 2011 on the issue, stating that discrimination against women for appointments to the position of supervisors for local religious councils was a serious phenomenon since the position is an administrative appointee subject to the principles of equality according to state law.
Following Biton’s appointment, Regev welcomed Bennett’s step but said a lot more needed to be done in order to reach a situation of equality on the issue.
“Local religious councils are an excellent example of a field in which the female public pays a heavy price for the shameful way in which the parties of government would cheaply sell their civil rights to the haredi parties,” said Regev.
“The best way to put an end to the discrimination against women and for the defective functioning of local religious councils is to abolish them immediately and transfer [responsibility for] religious services to local authorities. As long as this is not done, full representation for women must be ensured on the councils.”